I honestly had no idea about what I was going to see. The plot that led up to his assassination? Civil War stuff? Nutter Mary Todd fussing over her guys? Daniel Day Lewis just walking around doing his thing? What it actually IS is a supremely-acted reenactment of Lincoln's last months, where he manages to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery and end the Civil War.
I don't know guys. I grew up in the US and studied this piece of history over and over. I've read many of the various Lincoln books that have been all the rage. And I've never quite absorbed the facts like this. I've never appreciated the personalities involved, the toll it took on our 16th President. Or the monumental EFFORT it took to convince a room full of opportunistic old white men, who have only known a world with slaves, to abolish life as they know it.
|Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln|
There were several times in this long movie (2.5 hours) when I didn't know exactly what was going on. It is all very complicated. But when you sift through the details, a few important things are clear. Lincoln wanted to pass this amendment at any cost. Many Congressmen were only willing to pass it if it meant the Civil War would end. But what if peace was established between the North and South BEFORE the amendment was passed? This was the tightrope that Lincoln walked. To do BOTH at exactly the right time.
I think everyone who has seen this movie has found it highly ironic to view the bickering and bullying and manipulation going on in Congress while Lincoln was attempting to get the amendment passed. Republicans, wanting to abolish slavery but also wanting and end to the war. Democrats, who don't want to give up their bread and butter. Apparently they acted like stubborn, bickering children back then too. The difference is that Lincoln showed his leadership and got the job done.
I found the pre-cursor to the lobbyists, more like low-level mobsters here, to be thoroughly entertaining. Bribing and manipulating all the Democrats that were on the fence. In particular, William Bilbo, played by a well-fattened James Spader, was a treat.
|James Spader as William Bilbo|
Another highlight was the character of Thaddeus Stevens, Radical Republican Congressional leader and abolitionist, played by Tommy Lee Jones. Loud-mouthed, sarcastic, passionate and caustic, Stevens fought his entire life to end slavery. While he and Lincoln didn't always see eye-to-eye, they worked together on this mission and the chemistry on screen was palpable. I'd eat my hat if Jones doesn't get an Oscar for this supporting role.
|Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens|
So yes, this is an excellent history lesson. I'd even say that it should be shown to kids of a certain age as part of their Social Studies curriculum. (There are some swear words and some bloody scenes from the war, hence the PG-13 rating, so take care.)
There were many, many quotable quotes in this movie. They were real zingers, ones that made my brain halt for just a moment, to ponder the brilliance. I'm not sure if these were words uttered by Lincoln or written by the Tony Cushner, the author of the screenplay. I think they could be compiled into a book to be used to live one's life. Quotes about leadership, power, and true north.
But the biggest reason to see this movie is to watch Daniel Day Lewis. It is UNCANNY. The man has certainly proven himself with the two Oscars he already has on his mantle for his roles in "My Left Foot" and "There Will Be Blood". But this is something else. He has such a presence, that you truly believe you are watching history happen. In my mind, there is no way anyone else will come close to the Oscar this year. In fact, I'm betting this movie is going to sweep the Oscars. This is Spielberg at his finest.
5 out of 5 stars